Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Planning for the future

During the recent LIANZA conference the National Library of New Zealand used the opportunity to find out what visions people had for 2017.

The ideas are available from flickr under the heading In 2017 libraries will be…

This idea has inspired a suggestion from Michael Stephens (Tame the web blog) that this method be used to collect visions from your community.

How do you see reference and information services in 2012 and in 2017? What are we doing, do we still have a role? What are the new areas of engagement with the community? How has our capacity to provide reference and information services been enhanced? How has it been eroded?

I think we have a hopeful future, but we need to plan for it, rather than react so I would be interested to know how you see the answers to the above questions.

What tools need to be developed to help libraries lead? There are many great tools out there – but what would help you provide a better service to your customers. What is the next tool like a wiki or a blog?

What else are we talking about that we need to develop? What actions do we need to take to move these ideas into being?

1 comment:

Martin said...

I've read this post a couple of times now and it's taken a bit of time to get my head around it but having read a couple of posts on Lorcan Dempsey's blog tonight my thoughts have crystalised somewhat.

Before I go into where I think libraries should be heading I first want to share a couple of opinions about where I feel Libraries are currently at.

What are our strengths? Libraries have content - heaps of it. We collect books, journals, images databases, etc. In fact, we try to answer just about any questions people ask us. Just as importantly we organise that content. Once we've collected the content we store it in such a way that we can find it again. We also combine it in order to add value to it.

However, libraries do searching, or what Dempsey calls discovery, extremely poorly. Compare the search experience of Google or Amazon to that of an OPAC. The OPAC works best when you already know the author or title that you want. It's a much less satisfactory experience if you are looking to discover information on a topic.

Finally before moving on one more observation. When it comes to information, in my experience, most people are happy with good enough - as long as good enough is easy! You can have the absolute best content available but if the discovery experience requires too much effort people will choose the good enough option nearly every time.

So, to the future of libraries and reference services. Where should we be placing our efforts?

First of all I think we need to acknowledge that in terms of discovery we are not initial destination for the public - and I don't think we will ever be again. We've missed the boat. Google and Amazon et al are so far ahead of what we offer now that we've lost that battle.

What we still have is our content. I think we need to focus on making our content available in the places where people look. This is what Dempsey calls disclosure. We should be exposing or disclosing our content - our catalogue records, database holdings, our metadata - in such a way that the major discovery tools can see them. Imagine if you had a link on every Amazon book record that asked if you wanted the book for free? When you click on the link you get a list of libraries that hold the book in order of proximity to you with an indication of when the book would be available to borrow. I can't see this happeing for obvious reasons but it illustrates my point. The data is there it's just that the systems can't exchange it readily - yet!

How do we get there? Well one crucial area that libraries need to start is by talking to our LMS vendors. So much of our content, our most valuable asset, is locked away in the proprietry database of our Library Management System, which does a much better job of acquisition and inventory than it does of discovery. This is by no means my idea, indeed, others have expressed this need far more eloquently than me. If our catalogue metadata could be exposed via RSS feeds or in a format that could be harvested by search engines, eg. Opensearch, I think we would be well on the way to giving people a much better chance of discovering our content. We could make use of the data in our LMS to add value to the content. For example, combining circulation figures, number of copies and date of publication to form an algorithm that ranks search results.

Apart from the LMS I think libraries need to participate in the communities that our customers participate in (I've written about this before).

Finally, if I was managing a library my next systems person would not necessarily have a Library degree. They would, however, need database development, web and programming skills.